Marc Gallaway who is the Principal of Selah Middle School in Washington State and has been in the same district for 21 years. He was the 2018 Washington State Middle-Level Principal of the Year and is a force for change in his state and beyond.
We talk with Marc about the intentional things that his school is doing to help get new 6th grade students off to a great start as they begin middle school.
John: Welcome to the CharacterStrong podcast where we have conversations on school culture and leadership. Today, we're talking with Marc Gallaway, who is the principal of Selah Middle School, near Yakima, Washington. Mark was the 2018 Washington State Middle Level Principal of the Year, and is a force for change in his state and beyond. Are you ready? Let's get CharacterStrong with Marc Gallaway.
John: Alright. We are so excited to have Marc Gallaway on the CharacterStrong podcast. The 2018 Middle School Principal of the Year for Washington State. I see Marc 15 years as an administrator, all in the same district. Is it all in the same building as well?
Marc: Actually, no. I started my first two years. I was at our alternative school, Selah Academy, and then moved right over to our Junior High at that point, and then we just built a brand new middle school, opened that in 2014. So, pretty much, middle level, pretty much the whole time, except for two years at a high school level.
John: That's awesome. I remember too, both having the honor of speaking at your school and really feeling that presence of the intention of the work you're doing around climate and culture as well as getting to come and do a staff training. I remember the day that I came into to do a staff development, you were actually being told and the staff was finding out that you were Principal of the Year.
John: It's a neat connection there on that day, but I've always been just really impressed and inspired by the work that you're doing. For our CharacterStrong podcast, we like to zero in on either one idea, one strategy, and get right into that. So, one of the things I wanted to ask you today, is about the intentional work you're doing with your sixth graders.
John: Your newest students, and getting them off to a successful middle school start. Would you be willing to tell us a little bit about the intentionality that you're putting into action as a school?
Marc: Yeah. You betcha. First of all, thanks John, for having me on. I appreciate that. Looking forward to having a chat with you. Really, it's one of those things, when you have sixth graders, you have middle school, trying to think about how do you get those sixth graders off to a great start and understand that middle school can be a challenging time for kids. We make sure that we're real intentional with those.
Marc: First of all, I probably need to give some shout outs to just the fact that I don't do this work alone. I've got, to quote Jim Collins, Good to Great. You've got to get the right people on the bus. I've got two great assistant principals in Paul Hudson and Joel Starr, that lead a lot of this work. Just like I said, can't do it alone. Got to get the right people there and then it's get out of their way, so these guys are really taking the charge on.
Marc: A couple of things really, that we start off with. We've got a really strong mentoring program that we started, oh shoot, eight or nine years ago, when we were at our old junior high. We just had ninth graders mentor eighth graders, which is not a lot of years apart. We moved that into the middle level and so we have every sixth grade student that come to school, before school starts, for a half day orientation, with their mentor.
Marc: That's when they get to meet their mentor, so it's about a six to one ratio, with every sixth grader having an eighth grade mentor. It's a thriving program. We had 150 eighth graders apply last year to be mentors, so we get that down to about 65 students. They meet twice a month and then they do some other things throughout that time, so we really try to get those sixth graders connected with somebody.
Marc: One of those great things led by Susie Bennett and Becky Norgard, our web team, Krista Doll, Chris Yergen, and Greg Haste. We've got some great staff members that lead that, so that's the foundation for our sixth graders.
Marc: Then, we've made a commitment that every one of our sixth graders takes a course at sixth grade and one of their rotational classes is a brainology course, so it's all around Carol Dewitt's work with Growth Mindset and trying to figure out what it means to ...
Marc: It's okay to fail and what does that mean when you have a fixed or a growth mindset, so trying to get those sixth graders in that mindset that it's okay. Take a risk and step out of your comfort zone a little bit and not be afraid to fail. So, every sixth grader takes that again.
Marc: Some take it later in the year, some take it right from the get go, but that's a couple of foundational things. Then, of course, this year, got to throw a plug in there, John, for CharacterStrong. This is our first year in full implementation of CharacterStrong, so we're a six eight now. We've devoted that we have an advisory class that every staff member has a group of kids, 18 to 20 kids.
Marc: We've just made a commitment that every Monday during our advisory period, we do not have any other substitutes. We don't throw any videos in there for our Chromebooks, anything else. It's all CharacterStrong lessons and so just diving in with that. That's actually been intentional. Our staff are right on road with it.
Marc: We're just trying to get better at that. Obviously, like I said, year one, so we see some areas for improvement and got a team in our building that lead that and take that charge on, so that is another big thing that we do. Those are our three over-arching pieces that we do with our mentoring, the brainology, and then the CharacterStrong piece this year.
Marc: Then, we do some very, very specific things around our socio/emotional learning, around our attendance, and then we shift that into the academic piece for our sixth graders. Again, my two assistant principals are the ones that lead this charge along with my counselors.
Marc: So, to start off with real quick with the socio/emotional piece, our counselors have created a little Google inventory and we use the SRSS, which is the Student Risk Screening Scale. It's comes out of PBIS work that each one of our sixth grade teachers look at the whole child and they look at that and give that information back to our counselors.
Marc: We had about 80 students at sixth grade that reached out and said, "Hey, we'd like to be a part of some of this work, just around the socio/emotional learning." They're internalizing things, trying to get them to externalize some things. Our counselors met with each one of those kids individually and started talking about what the supports we could put into place for those kids.
Marc: So, just identifying students in their needs and making sure that we're looking at the whole child. That was a big piece. We're in the middle of meeting with those kids and trying to decide, are some kids, can they work together around some of the different needs that they've got. Whether it's stuff at home or it's depression, any of those sorts of things.
John: Yeah. I love when you talk about that intentional approach from multiple angles, and where I just heard you go into is, I mean, when we bring that into, it all connects. The socio/emotional side, even into that behavioral piece. What I'm hearing is, this intentional implementing of a behavioral universal screener even, that's pulling out what externalizing and internalizing behaviors that might put a student at risk for potentially negative outcomes.
John: I remember in the district work that I was involved in, that doing the same thing, and one of the things we noticed is at the elementary level, there was more externalizers overall in the school, but as soon as it went to middle, and then especially at high, it was more internalizers, than externalizers. My guess is that's not obviously not rebuilding, but my also guess would be that we would see that trend.
John: What happens is, those are the ones that fall through the cracks a lot of times, because they're not the ones necessarily acting out in a classroom, and if we're not intentionally seeking those students out, using these validated tools that are right there, you are much more than able.
John: So, you're doing the entire intentional sixth grade welcome, that school-wide focus even that you've got mentors involved, but what if we also took that deeper dive and we're better to able serve our students more intentionally like that. Incredibly impressive and with that intentionality.
John: A question I would have would be this. A lot of times, we say, we don't have the time. We don't have the time because there's so much that we have to do when it comes to getting right into the academic work and whatever else. This is an investment obviously that you're making. What results have you seen?
John: Because I could tell you an obvious one, being a lesson even on this quick conversation that we're having, is when you have a hundred and some odd students, upper classmen, eighth graders signing up to mentor sixth graders, that doesn't happen just because you said, "We're going to do this." That happens because of an intentional climate and culture to get that many students to show up.
John: So, tell me just a little bit as we close down this talk, what have been some of the results for making time for this approach with your sixth graders, identifying of their needs with that internalizing, that behavior screener, all that work, has there been a payoff in your mind?
Marc: Yeah. No doubt. When you start looking at your attendance rates, we're averaging right around 95, 96% on a regular basis. We announce attendance every day in our daily announcements. We announce it by grade level, so kids have an idea. So, we've seen our attendance rates have increased dramatically.
Marc: We look at our discipline. When you start looking at a true pyramid of interventions around the tiers, we truly have a really 96 to 97% of our kids are in tier one. So we can really then focus in on that really need the tier three interventions for behavior. We've seen that just payoff.
Marc: Just the fact, like I said, we focus dramatically on the culture of our school and trying to make sure that we just surveyed our kids. Did a pre-survey, like I don't know, a couple of months ago, just about, "What's the percentage of kids that feel like they're connected to at least one adult here?"
Marc: Our results at first were about 75%. Well, we're like, that's not good enough. So, we did some intentional work. We actually implemented. We did a staff competition by department on fourth door, and just said, "Hey, let's see. What impact do we have on kids just being able to feel like you're connected? Not just being at the door, but greeting them in a certain way."
Marc: Surveyed them again right before we left for the holidays, and we shot up to 90% of our kids. Somebody that's connected to an adult at school. Those are just some of the initial things that we start to see as the payoff is.
Marc: Again, we always say, what we focus on grows. So, if we're going to focus on the whole child relationship piece, we see that payoff in the long run. That doesn't mean that academics aren't important, but we feel like we have to have the whole child in mind in order for the academics to actually come alive and have an impact in the classroom. Those are certainly the benefits we've seen.
John: Well said. Well, I think too, I hope people pick up the power, the impact that you just shared. I mean, the national average when filling out a behavioral universal screener, so identifying how many of our students are in tier one, which means, what we're doing on a daily basis, is enough for them.
John: There's no need for maybe extra interventions and/or supports. The national average is 80%. You are at what? What was it? 90 what percent?
Marc: 97%. Yeah, it's really a true-
John: It's incredible. I mean, if you're just talking about why is it worth this time? If you have that many students at what you're doing on the behavioral side is enough. Now, we're narrowing that down to 3 to 5% are all that is in need of that extra support. How much time that saves. When we say, "We don't have the time." Yeah, we do. When we take care of the plate, which is that foundational work.
Marc: Yep, no doubt about it. We've seen the benefit of it, so it's certainly something that we invest in and know that it works.
John: That's wonderful. I want to keep talking to you. I would love to have you back on at some point, if you'd be willing. Would you willing to join us again for another conversation at some point?
Marc: You betcha. I'd love to talk to you about what we're actually doing with attendance with our sixth graders and then what we're doing academically with those. Just narrowing in a focus from our core teachers. I've got a couple of other points I'd love to chat with you at another time.
John: Love it. Well, stay tuned for that. We will have you back on. Thank you for the incredible work you're doing. How can people connect with you, Marc, if there was a way? Is there any way? Are you on social media? I don't want to put more on your plate out there, but is there any way that if someone had, that they could connect with you?
Marc: Yep. I'm on Twitter. It's just @marcgallaway. So that's the easiest way. Of course, email. You can look me up in Selah school district. It's probably easier just to do that than try to give you my full email address, but it is email@example.com. M-A-R-C. Gallaway's all A's, but Twitter's probably the easiest way just to connect with me that way. It's @marcgallaway. M-A-R-C-G-A-L-L-A-W-A-Y. Love to chat more with you and look forward to that in the future.
John: Alright. Thank you so much. Thanks for joining us everybody. Stay tuned for more Marc Gallaway. Take care.
John: Thank you for listening to the CharacterStrong podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, feel free to share on your social media. Please rate, review, and make sure to subscribe for future episodes on Spotify and iTunes. Thanks for listening. Make it a great day.